Creationism in Texas Could Go Extinct on Election Day

An interesting article by Zack Koplin on creationism in Texas caught my eye on my Yahoo news feed. Setting aside the fact that I had no idea it was legal to teach creationism in Texas, I was equally surprised to discover the workings to remove such behind the scenes:


Baraminology of the Flood

Baraminology and the Flood

Presented for your amusement as a relief from all the very deep philosophy: a fine example of the cargo cult science of young-earth creationist baraminology. That label “cargo cult science” refers to attempts to ape the surface features of science, perhaps in hopes of gaining a similar degree of prestige. Think of Ann Gauger in a white lab coat, standing in front of a green screen.

Our example today comes from Kurt Wise, perhaps the most famous of the scientifically trained creationists — Harvard degree in paleontology with no less an advisor than S. J. Gould. Specifically, this publication:

Wise, Kurt P. 2009. Mammal kinds: How many were on the ark? Pages 129-161 in T. C. Wood and P. A. Garner (eds.), Genesis kinds: Creationism and the origin of species, Issues in creation #5. Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR.

As we shall see, one of the attributes of cargo cult science is the very careful handling of assumptions; their implications must be considered only in so far as they contribute to the desired conclusion, and any inconvenient consequences must be ignored. Wise actually does better than most, and is willing to let the data take him farther than most, but not so far as to endanger his beliefs.

The central task of baraminology, and the one that has most interested me, is the attempt to identify the created kinds. Wise proposes a novel method for this using the fossil record. But first, some assumptions, which must be granted for the sake of argument.

We must first suppose the literal truth of the entire Genesis story, including a strict timeline. Life, including all the kinds, was created over a week about 6000 years ago. These various kinds contained the potential to develop — one should not say “evolve: — into a great many species very quickly, which they proceeded to do. Around 1500 years later, there was a great Flood that covered the world, killing all terrestrial animals (at least) other than those preserved by Noah on the Ark. And Noah carried a few individuals of one species of each created kind; thus each kind suffered a severe bottleneck in the Flood: not only was each species reduced to a few individuals, but each kind was reduced to a single species.

Directly after the flood, the kinds re-diversified into new species (or quickly went extinct, in many cases). Traditionally in baraminology, the kind has been roughly identified with the family, thus the cat kind is considered to include lions, cheetahs, domestic cats, etc., 30+ living species and a fair number of extinct ones, all from an original pair of cats on the Ark. (Wise is willing to go much further than that, as we will see.)

There are also a number of assumptions about the stratigraphic record. The record can be divided in two: Deposits of the Flood, including the entire Paleozoic and Mesozoic and unspecified portions of the Precambrian, and deposits of the post-Flood, the Cenozoic. The K-T boundary represents the end of the Flood. Within these strictures, Wise accepts the worldwide correlation and sequence of rocks. It just all happened a lot faster than mainstream geologists think. And here’s the timeline, a combination of Wise and other papers in the same volume. Deposition gradually decreases in rate as time goes by, slowing to roughly modern rates around 650 years after the Flood, and the entire Tertiary is compressed into that time.


Wise’s final assumption is that the fossil record is very close to complete, at least at the level of mammal kinds.

And here we arrive at a test for kind status. As soon as a kind gets off the Ark and has had time to increase to a reasonable level of population, it should be represented in the fossil record. Wise figures that 30 years or so should be enough time, so that every kind should be represented in the fossil record by the end of the Lower Eocene. Taking a standard classification of mammals, he assigns kind status as the lowest taxonomic level having any representative by the end of the Lower Eocene.

This results in some interesting developments. The approximate level of the kind is not the traditional family but superfamily and suborder. For example, Wise considers Feliformia and Caniformia to be single kinds. The former includes cats, mongooses, civets, and hyenas, while the latter includes dogs, bears, weasels, raccoons, and, most interestingly, seals. By similar reasoning, he also supposes that whales are descended from terrestrial mammals aboard the Ark. This is much more evolution — sorry, diversification — than most creationists are willing to swallow. Wise, to his credit, doesn’t shy away from that.

Now, there is one group excluded from this method. Can you guess which one? Yes, it’s humans. Wise supposes that, given their long post-flood life spans, no human died until long after the Lower Eocene, and thus there could be no human fossils.

The fact remains that, given his assumptions and specifically excluding hominids, his method for determining kinds is perfectly valid. The assumptions are correctly followed where they lead. So where does this become cargo cult science? It’s in the failure to consider other implications of the scenario.

Wise completely ignores the Flood sediments. Under his assumption, every mammal kind (including humans, incidentally, which had a large pre-Flood population) should be represented in the Paleozoic and/or Mesozoic record. But this would imply that there are at most three or four kinds of placental mammals. And that’s being generous; many paleontologists think that no Mesozoic fossils represent placental mammals, which would make them at best a single kind.

Here’s another corollary that Wise does not consider: any species that appears both before and after the K-T boundary must be a separate kind from any other. While this applies to very few mammals, it would be useful for other taxa.

Speaking of other taxa, it’s clear that most kinds — tyrannosaurs, gorgonopsians, stegocephalians, palaeodictyopterans, and so on — became extinct too soon after the Flood to leave any fossil record at all. It isn’t clear why YHWH felt it necessary to put them all on the Ark, only to abandon them immediately after, but I suppose He moves in mysterious ways, etc.

We will not even think about plants, aquatic animals, forams, and such. They aren’t important, and Wise’s line of reasoning depends entirely on the Ark.

One final tidbit: if we accept the K-T boundary as the end of the Flood, and accept further that the Ark grounded on Mt. Ararat (which most creationists do), we have a conundrum, as Mt. Ararat is a Pleistocene volcano, which formed, by the chronology above, several hundred years after the Flood ended.

Wallace’s Problem and Darwin’s Doubt: Still Unresolved?

I would like to begin by congratulating Kantian Naturalist on his recent post, Solving Wallace’s Problem and Resolving Darwin’s Doubt, which squarely faces the epistemological issues raised by Darwin and Wallace, regarding the reliability of human knowledge. In this post, I’d like to explain why I don’t think Kantian Naturalist’s statement of the problem quite gets it right, and why I believe the solution he puts forward is a flawed one.

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Solving Wallace’s Problem and Resolving Darwin’s Doubt

I want to consider, in light of fairly new philosophical and scientific research, two long-standing conceptual objections to evolutionary theory: Wallace’s Problem and Darwin’s Doubt.

It is well-recognized that Wallace saw the need for some supernatural intelligence in explaining human evolution, in contrast to Darwin’s naturalistic speculations in Descent of Man. What is less recognized is that Wallace was, in an important sense, right. He squarely faced the problem, “can natural selection alone account for the unique cognitive abilities of human beings, such as abstract thought, self-consciousness, radical reshaping of the environment (e.g. clothing, building), collective self-governance by ethical norms, and the symbolic activities of art, religion, philosophy, mathematics, logic, and science?”  Whereas Darwin thought there was continuity between humans and non-human animals, his evidence is primarily amount emotional displays, rather than the genuinely cognitive discontinuity.

A closely related problem, however, was squarely faced by Darwin: the question, nicely phrased in his famous letter to Asa Gray, as to whether it is plausible to think that natural selection can have equipped a creature with a capacity for arriving at any objective truths about the world.  (It is not often noted that in that letter, Darwin says that he believes in an intelligent creator — what is in doubt is whether natural selection gives him reasons to trust in his cognitive abilities.)

These two questions, Wallace’s Problem and Darwin’s Doubt, are two sides of the same coin: if natural selection (along with other biological processes) cannot account for the uniquely human ability to grasp objective truths about reality, then we must either reject naturalism (as Wallace did) or question our ability to grasp objective truths about reality (as Darwin did).

Call this the Cognitive Dilemma for Naturalism. Can it be solved? If so, how?

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Jeff Lowder presents one of the strongest rebuttals against theism, and cases for naturalism I have so far seen

Jeff Lowder of The Secular Outpost debated Frank Turek 22nd september in Kansas. From this debate (video is not available yet), Jeff has compiled a narrated presentation of his powerpoint slides used in the debate, which I think now amounts to one of the strongest cases for naturalism and against the type of theism offered by the likes of William Lane Craig, I have seen to date.

It is long but if you are interested in this sort of thing, it is definitely worth a watch:

Sandbox (4)

Sometimes very active discussions about peripheral issues overwhelm a thread, so this is a permanent home for those conversations.

I’ve opened a new “Sandbox” thread as a post as the new “ignore commenter” plug-in only works on threads started as posts.

Moderation Issues (4)

Please use this thread for alerting admins to moderation issues and for discussion or complaints arising from particular decisions. This thread has been reissued as a post rather than a page as the “ignore commenter” button does not apply to threads started as pages.

John Harshman thinks Nilsson Pilger’s fairytale on eye evolution is science?

In an early post John, who wants to be called doctor, urged readers to take a look at a little paper by Dan Nilsson and Suzanne Pilger. He says it is a good conceptual example of how natural selection acting on variation can gradually create a new feature.

Gee, that must be quite a paper.  He says it can’t be beat!  So what does their paper actually show?  The paper is called , “A Pessimistic Estimate of the Time Required for an Eye to Evolve.” Well, that does sound interesting! Continue reading

Axe, EN&W and protein sequence space (again, again, again)

So I wanted to write a post on the whole “density of functional proteins in amino acid sequence space” because, it seems to me, most ID proponents have some completely unwarranted beliefs about it. Recently it seems the main champion of the idea that evolving new protein functions would be so unlikely as to be practically impossible for evolution, even given several billion years, planet-spanning population sizes and natural selection, is Douglas Axe. He produced a paper in an (actual) peer reviewed journal back in 2004, and ID creationists have been spinning it ever since.

In 2007 a review of Axe 2004 appeared on Panda’s Thumb, by Arthur Hunt: Axe (2004) and the evolution of enzyme function. It recaps what Axe actually did and what he concluded from it, and I will add a bit about how it’s been pushed in ID circles since (see for example how it is pushed here: Imagine: 60 Million Proteins in One Cell Working Together.

This paper is interesting because it relates to the work of Douglas Axe that resulted in a paper in the Journal of Molecular Biology in 2004. Axe answered questions about this paper earlier this year, and also mentioned it in his recent book Undeniable (p. 54). In the paper, Axe estimated the prevalence of sequences that could fold into a functional shape by random combinations. It was already known that the functional space was a small fraction of sequence space, but Axe put a number on it based on his experience with random changes to an enzyme. He estimated that one in 10^74 sequences of 150 amino acids could fold and thereby perform some function — any function.

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Is evolution smarter than you are?

Evolutionists are fond of citing Orgel’s Second Rule: “Evolution is smarter than you are.” I have previously expressed skepticism about this rule (see here and here), but I’ve had no success in persuading people with a naturalistic metaphysical outlook. Yesterday, however, I came across a LiveScience article by Tia Glose titled, The Spooky Secret Behind Artificial Intelligence’s Incredible Power (October 9, 2016), which might prove to be a game-changer. We’ll see.

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Over-egging the case for protein design

Recently, I was browsing through the latest posts over at Evolution News and Views, and an anonymous article titled, Imagine: 60 Million Proteins in One Cell Working Together, caught my eye. By now, most readers at TSZ will be aware that I consider it overwhelmingly likely that the first living thing was designed. However, I’m also highly critical of attempts to over-egg the case for intelligent design. The article I read was one such attempt: it contained some unfortunate errors and omissions.

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How to think about science.

The physicist Arthur Zajonc provides us with his view of science that gives me hope for the future

Science can lead us away from reality into abstractions. It is too easy for the model to take over from the reality it is supposed to represent. The lived experience of the phenomenal world often takes a back seat. Zajonc gives us a couple of examples where the model dominates. The genetic code is one, and the neuroscience of the brain as a representative of the mind is another. If we are not careful our models become idols and the living reality is forgotten.

From a radio documentary featuring Arthur Zajonc he gives his views on Goethe’s science:

If you look at the actual practice that he undertakes it is I think faithful to the core principles of science, namely, it is empirically grounded, it proceeds from one methodical experience to the next, and it comes to a kind of insight, a moment of aperçu, of discovery.

He thinks that all good science proceeds in the way Goethe describes. It begins with insight. An example of which is Newton connecting a falling apple with the movement of the moon.
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In Slight Defense of Granville Sewell: A. Lehninger, Larry Moran, L. Boltzmann

The basic biochemistry textbook I study from is Lehninger Prinicples of Biochemistry. It’s a well regarded college textbook. But there’s a minor problem regarding the book’s Granville-Sewell-like description of entropy:

The randomness or disorder of the components of a chemical system is expressed as entropy,

Nelson, David L.; Cox, Michael M.. Lehninger Principles of Biochemistry (Page 23). W.H. Freeman. Kindle Edition.


And from the textbook written by our very own Larry Moran:

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Why I don’t find keiths’s critique of Plantinga’s Free Will Defense convincing

In a recent post, keiths criticizes Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will theodicy, which (very briefly) goes as follows:

…[S]ome of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against his goodness: for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.
(Plantinga, Alvin (1967). God and Other Minds. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. Pages 166-167.)

Keiths responds:

Suppose God creates each person with free will, so that everything he or she does during life is freely chosen. If God is omniscient, he knows what all of those choices will be before the person is even created. If God simply chooses not to create the people who will go on to commit rape (or even experience the desire to commit rape), then he has prevented those things from happening without depriving anyone of their free will.

There are several things wrong with this reply. Continue reading

A critique of Plantinga’s ‘Free Will Defense’

The ‘problem of evil’ is a perpetual thorn in the side of the omnitheist — that is, someone who believes in an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God. For if God is perfectly good and all-powerful, why does he allow so much evil in the world? He’s powerful enough to eradicate it; and if he’s perfectly good, he should want to eradicate it. So why doesn’t he?

One response, known as the ‘Free Will Defense’, comes from Alvin Plantinga:

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